Nancy Teague holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s in Hospital Administration from the University of Michigan. She’s used those degrees to work in hospital administration, sell complex products, and even owned and operated one of the largest art galleries in Seattle. But it wasn’t until 13 years ago that she found her calling – creating highly trained service dogs that will significantly impact the lives of their recipients and their families.
She first discovered the worth of service dogs in 2004, when she trained her own mixed breed dog, Tony, to become a therapy dog. Every week for four years she would take her Mutt-i-gree on trips to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn, bringing lots of smiles, and of course wet kisses, to the faces of men, women, and children in need of an emotional lift. The joy she received from that experience provided even more inspiration as she continued her work with dogs throughout the years.
She fostered a brood (a female breeding dog), raised two puppies as they trained to become service dogs, and volunteered as an early puppy socializer at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She also served on the Northeast Board of Canine Companions for Independence, and has been a longtime supporter of North Shore Animal League America’s no-kill mission. But with years of hands-on experience came a disturbing realization – the need for service dogs far exceeded the supply.
That’s when she decided to combine her years of business experience with her life’s passion and founded Putnam Service Dogs, a 501(c)3 charity, which provides free service dogs and follow-up support services to people with physical disabilities other than blindness. The organization recently kicked off a capital campaign with its sights set on the first target of raising 1 million dollars to purchase a 10-acre site for their state-of-the-art facility in Putnam County, N.Y.
“The waiting list for service dogs for people with physical disabilities other than blindness is more than 2 years long. There is such an overwhelming need out there, but just not enough organizations training puppies to fit the specific needs,” Nancy said. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so once I heard about the pressing need out there for service dogs, I was inspired to take action.”
In April of 2017, the organization celebrated its first class of puppy trainees when three beautiful rescues, all females of varying breeds and sizes, adopted from rescue organizations in New York and Connecticut, began their journey to become service dogs. Amy, an adorable shepherd mix, Anna, a tiny blonde lab mix, and Allie a big black lab mix, are well into the extensive two-year process that will transform them from playful and cuddly rescue pets into working service dogs for people who desperately need them.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
“We have an amazing head trainer in Rachael Beuchler, who works with the puppies once a week for at least an hour. The puppies have to learn so many things before Rachael can even dive into teaching them specific tasks needed by their recipients. The first three to 14 weeks are critical in terms of maximizing their learning potential,” said Nancy, who aside from running the organization, signed on to raise one of the puppies since finding qualified puppy raisers has proved to be an extremely challenging task. “Service dogs must be able to complete specific tasks to assist the person with a disability. It takes about four to five months to train each task and then requires quite a bit of support after the fact. We pride ourselves on being there every step of the way with every person lucky enough to be matched with one of our dogs.”
Select Animal League America Rescue Pups Prepare to Live Life of Service
Once puppy raisers are secured, the next class of puppy trainees will be selected from North Shore Animal League America’s, Port Washington, N.Y. campus. Nancy and her team will work with Sylvia Ottaka, our Senior Director of Operations, and her shelter team, to select puppies they believe have what it takes to graduate training and become service dogs. Although more than 30% of dogs that enter service training don’t graduate due to behavioral and health issues, Sylvia is confident the pups selected will have everything they need for Nancy and her team to succeed in turning these Animal League America Mutt-i-grees into highly skilled service dogs.
“Nancy has been a major donor to our organization for many years. Her passion for improving the lives of rescue animals has always been apparent, and Putnam Rescue Dogs is just another example of her harnessing that passion and making a tremendous impact,” Sylvia said. “We are proud to be teaming up with her organization to not only improve the lives of rescue pets in need, but dramatically improve the lives of the people they service.”